aisha2

An Idealist’s Guide to Avoiding Burnout

There are some half a million aid workers deployed across the globe but it takes grit to stick with it over the long haul. While the rewards can be manifold, so can the hazards inherent in the work.

In 2015 alone, the Aid Worker Security Report revealed that 109 aid workers were killed, 110 were wounded and 68 were kidnapped. Aisha Bain has experienced the perils first hand. “I have been punched in the face by government soldiers. I’ve been in situations where I thought I was going to die,” she tells us.

Bain (pictured center, above) has worked in emergencies and post-conflict situations in 17 nations on five continents. The work was fulfilling but it also took a toll on her. She says that burnout is pervasive – and even embraced – in her industry. “There is some level of working in an extreme way that burnout becomes a badge of honor,” she explains. “Because that’s how much you’re committed and that’s how hard you work.”

AlessandraYanoun

In 2008, Alessandra Pigni worked as a clinical psychologist for Doctors Without Borders in the West Bank. She is the author of The Idealist’s Survival Kit.

Alessandra Pigni, a clinical psychologist who has worked in humanitarian aid for a decade, says Bain’s experience is not unique. She interviewed and counseled aid workers over the years and began to realize that these men and women were in need of help themselves. “Many of us were overstressed, burned out,” she tells us. “Very few of us had any support.” She has now written a book for them called The Idealist’s Survival Kit: Seventy Five Simple Ways to Avoid Burnout.

Pigni and Bain discuss why many professional aid workers tend to burn out. It’s not only due to trauma and violence in the field, but the difficulties of bureaucracy and bad management at their offices, too. This pair of ‘idealists’ also give suggestions for how engaged citizens and everyday activists can sustain themselves over the long-haul. “In my book, I put the ABC of burnout prevention,” Pigni says. “It’s about awareness, boundaries and connections.”

Additional Resources:

Alessandra Pigni’s book

Alessandra Pigni’s website

Pigni’s IRIN article: Psychologists stay home: Nepal doesn’t need you

Bain’s film: Darfur Diaries: Message From Home

The Aid Worker Security Database

Pigni on Twitter

Bain on Twitter

Featured Image: Aisha Bain (Tanzania, 2016)

Leave a Comment